Tangled Web

People of all ages make posts like this and more online and don’t think twice about it. As a matter of fact, people do and say a lot of things they might not otherwise broadcast when its their fingers doing the talking, whether it is on the computer or via text messages. One thing’s for certain, the reach of written words can be wide. That’s why experts say it’s important for parents to understand technology and talk to their kids about it.

“Parents need to start early. We work with so many parents who are good parents with regard to their kids’ offline lives, but they aren’t as involved or active in what their kids are doing in the virtual world,” said Cris Clapp Logan, director of communications and congressional relations for Enough Is Enough, a non-partisan, nonprofit organization that began in 1994 to help make the Internet safer for kids and families through education. The group also runs a website, internetsafety101.org, that provides rules, tools and information about online safety.

“For our kids today, they are literally growing up online; for them, their online world is as real and vital as their offline lives,” Clapp Logan said. “They need healthy boundaries, positive role models, and parental advice as they learn how to communicate and grow as they develop their virtual identities.”

Linda Thomas is tech-savvy mom. You might hear her on your morning drive when she co-hosts KIRO FM’s news. She’s also known as The News Chick and has one of the most popular Twitter feeds in the Northwest (13,000-plus followers) and a local news blog on mynorthwest.com that has an emphasis on social media, technology, Northwest companies, education and parenting.
“It would be hypocritical of me to deny my kids access to technology because the Internet is a part of my life about 20 hours out of the day,” Thomas said. “But because I’m aware of the possible dangers online, we do have restrictions.

“I have a 15-year-old daughter and a 10-year-old-son, and neither have computers in their bedrooms. We’re parents who don’t let them have a TV in their rooms, either, but somehow they survive,” Thomas said. “When they need to access the Internet for school work, they do it generally on our laptop that’s in our kitchen. We also use a filter program, so there are certain types of content that are blocked, and access to restricted sites is password protected. My daughter is more into technology than my son. She has a Facebook account and texts almost as much as I tweet. Sadly for her, the texting cuts off on weeknights at 10:30.”

Thomas is also her daughter’s Facebook friend, so she can see what her child is posting online. “But I don’t annoy her by commenting on her page,” she said. “After you set limits, then you have to be willing to give kids freedom because that’s the only way they’ll learn to navigate the online world on their own.”

But kids aren’t the only ones who need to be careful online – adults do, too. The Bellevue Police Department has seen an increase in online-related crime, especially for folks using classified ad services such as Craigslist, said Bellevue Public Information Officer Seth Tyler. “Usually it involves a scammer wanting to buy an item with a forged check or asking people to send money, but they don’t receive the goods,” he said. Identity theft also is a concern, he said. Too many people make life easy for criminals.

“People put a lot of personal information on Facebook, like their full name and date of birth on the page,” Tyler said, and that’s all it takes to either steal an identity or track a person down. “If someone walked up to you on the street and asked for your driver’s license you wouldn’t give that information. It’s pretty much the same thing only online.”

Thomas agrees. “My husband and I tell our kids the safety tip we heard long ago, which is don’t put any information online that you wouldn’t want painted on the side of our house,” she said. “Where you’re located and personal information needs to remain private. That includes not posting Facebook status updates when we’re on vacation. Sorry kids, your friends will have to wait to find out about your trip.”

It seems like the news has been filled with stories of cyber bullying, Internet stalkers and other examples of technology-assisted troubles, including the recent story about the Rutgers University student who committed suicide after his roommate allegedly recorded and posted video of his private sexual encounter online. Or the story about the Duke University graduate who allegedly e-mailed a PowerPoint report to her friends detailing her sexual escapades with her fellow students. And then her friends passed it on and it went viral from there.

“Nothing is truly private online. This is such an important message that we have to get to our youth: think before you post,” Clapp Logan said.

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